Mac Jones led a high-powered Alabama offense to a National Championship his senior season in Tuscaloosa. He did so in an offense that featured a heavy dose of run-pass option plays (RPOs) and playing almost exclusively in the shotgun.
Entering Year 2 in New England, the Patriots are starting to adapt to Jones’ strengths from his collegiate days.
Through two weeks of the 2022 season, Jones has been in the shotgun for 64 of the Patriots’ 71 passing plays. And despite being near the bottom of the league in RPO usage last season under Josh McDaniels, the Patriots broke out the run-pass options they worked on throughout the summer for the first time this season against the Steelers.
“I think we did it a little bit,” Jones said on Wednesday when asked if they used RPOs on Sunday. “But I like those plays. I think every offense has some of them, in some way, shape or form. They’re good plays. But we have to be able to do a lot of things. ... So yeah, I like RPOs. They’re cool.”
Haven't seen the Patriots use this many RPOs in a game since Cam Newton, especially not with pass options on both sides of the field— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 20, 2022
RPO era may be upon us, folks pic.twitter.com/lxoxZz3LSM
The run-pass option scheme puts mental stress on opposing defense, something we’ve been banging the table on that the Patriots need to do a better job of. As the offensive line and running back treat the play as a run, the quarterback has a decision to either hand the ball off or throw it to a receiver based off the defenses movements.
In his senior season, Jones used these to carve apart opposing defenses - completing 61-of-68 passes for 778 yards and eight touchdowns, with zero interceptions.
“I think it puts stress on the defense,” Jones explained. “I definitely learned in college just watching Coach [Nick] Saban sometimes explode at practice. Just knowing he’s trying to tell somebody to do something but his guy’s running a route but then it’s also a run. Is it a pass? So there’s a lot of cool grey area there from an offensive perspective.”
New England’s lack of run-pass options in Jones’ rookie season was an interesting choice, running them just 15 total times. While they are not the core of an offense, RPOs have become a key part of other high-powered offenses around the league, and Jones’ familiarity and success with them in college could have been beneficial to the Patriots offense.
“Other teams were doing them too around the league, and having good production,” he said on Wednesday. “So I think, like I said, every offense has their core plays and you don’t necessarily want your RPOs to be your core plays which they’re not. But it’s always good to have that extra flavor you can have in there. Like you said, it’s a run, it’s a pass, what is it? So I think they’re always good.”
After not running an RPO against Miami in Week 1, the usage of them against Pittsburgh — and the heavy incorporation of shotgun — suggests more are on the horizon, and for good reason.
“We just have to keep growing, growing from them,” Jones said. “Learn how to do them and continue to figure it out early on. That’s kind of what early on in the season is for, figuring out what we want to do. Then once we find out what really fits, we’ll use that throughout the year.”